Smart poles are urban technology aggregation points centered around smart streetlighting platforms. They are expected to play a critical role in scaling smart urban infrastructure deployments, from video surveillance and Wi-Fi hotspots to digital signage, environmental monitoring systems, traffic management solutions, and Electric Vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure. Smart pole adoption will be mainly driven by the telco ecosystem, with vendors like Nokia and Huawei looking for locations to deploy 5G small cells as part of cellular network densification programs. Other drivers include sustainability targets and government initiatives. The global installed base of smart poles will reach 10.8 million by 2030.
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What Are Smart Poles?
Smart poles are either connected, smart streetlights or other types of utility poles that have been extended with imaging and other sensors, digital signage, short-range connectivity, charging points, or any other urban infrastructure functionality. They are essentially smart cities’ technology aggregation points, similar to smart kiosks and traffic lights.
Five main categories of smart pole use cases, systems, and applications can be defined as follow:
- Public Safety and Security: Surveillance cameras; audio sensors/speakers; emergency call button/push-to-talk; pedestrian safety.
- Environmental Monitoring: Air quality sensors; weather stations; audio sensors (noise pollution); water level/flood monitoring.
- Vehicle and Pedestrian Traffic Monitoring (‘Street Analytics”): Congestion/incident monitoring; parking availability and violation monitoring; Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) Roadside Units (RSUs) enabling autonomous driving; pedestrian counting.
- Information and Connectivity: Wi-Fi and Internet of Things (IoT) hotspots; information displays and digital signage; smart kiosks; payment terminals.
- Energy Generation and Distribution: Electric Vehicle (EV), two-wheel, drone, and handset charging points; renewable energy generation (solar panels); smart lighting.
Aggregating multiple systems, often through modular, extensible hardware, allows significant cost saving by sharing AI compute power, backhaul, design, installation, and maintenance costs. Additionally, the telco ecosystem increasingly sees smart poles as the perfect platform for enabling cellular network densification by integrating 5G small cells into smart pole hardware. Typical smart pole deployment locations include roads, campuses, parks, and city centers.
Smart Pole Vendor Solutions, Deployments, and Ecosystem Dynamics
An increasing number of technology vendors have started to design and commercialize smart pole systems in the past years:
- Nokia/LuxTurrim5G: The Nokia-driven LuxTurrim5G consortium and ecosystem announced the finalization of its pre-commercial version 5G smart pole in 2021, centered around Millimeter Wave (mmWave) 5G base stations and Nokia AnyHaul fiber access complemented with video cameras, radar, and Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensors for navigation and support for autonomous driving, weather and air quality sensors, and intelligent lighting. The second phase was completed in 2022 with a data platform and marketplace added, enabling cross-service utilization of smart city data and innovation. The Nokia Espoo campus smart city pilot included 19 smart poles and 2 smart and safe bus stops. Nokia also partnered with ClearWorld, which develops intelligent solar Light-Emitting Diode (LED) smart poles.
- Ubicquia: Pioneer and stalwart of modular smart pole hardware with commercial solutions, including UbiCell and UbiVu (smart lighting), UbiHub AP6 (streetlight Wi-Fi access point), UbiHub AP/AI (smart city platform for traffic and street analytics), UbiSmart AQM+ (streetlight air quality and noise monitor), and UbiMetro (streetlight small cell). Ubicquia has partnered with RealTerm Energy, Movandi, and Ericsson (5G small cells).
- Huawei: PoleStar 2.0, released in 2018, is aimed at both streetlights and electric poles, and includes support for 5G, smart lighting, smart monitoring, IoT, smart environmental protection, and city information. Huawei partnered with Virtulux to deploy a smart pole solution in Kazan, Russia.
- Verizon: Verizon Intelligent Lighting’s NetSense platform/smart city hub is a modular solution supporting Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) sensor extensions for video analytics and parking enforcement, and motion sensors to aggregate traffic, enforcement, and mobility information. Verizon has partnered with Comptek on its City Poles housing Verizon 4G and 5G small cell equipment in Denver and other U.S. cities.
- Signify (formerly Philips Lighting): The BrightSites portfolio supports wireless mesh networking (“Connectivity grid of the future”), Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), and 5G small cells, as well as Wi-Fi, camera, air quality, and other IoT sensors.
Key cities that have deployed smart poles include Seoul (drone charging pilot), Leuven (EV charging), Munich (public Wi-Fi), and Los Angeles (digital banners and EV charging). However, to date, the largest deployments have been in cities in China (Shenzhen and Hangzhou) and India (New Delhi, Bhopal, and Indore).
Smart pole deployments are also driven by government initiatives, such the European Union’s (EU) Humble Lamppost project, aimed at ultimately achieving 10 million smart lampposts across EU cities.
Why Are Smart Poles Important?
Over and beyond the obvious benefits of cost savings through modular extensible hardware and the overall principle of expensive urban real estate and equipment sharing (in turn, facilitating fast Return on Investment (ROI) and easier business case justification), the wider relevance of smart poles is related to how they are expected to enable advanced levels of convergence between communication networks, utilities and energy generation and distribution networks, and smart city infrastructure.
This translates into multiple business drivers, models, and ecosystem approaches that will coexist:
- Telco/ 5G-Driven Models: Cellular operator push and funding of 5G/6G network densification.
- Utility-Driven Models: Energy savings, renewable energy generation, and EV charging as key use cases closely linked to sustainability objectives and targets.
- Government-Driven Approaches: City and/or national/international government objectives and funding (e.g., the EU Humble Lamppost project, China, and India).
The power of the smart pole paradigm resides in bringing these various stakeholders, approaches, objectives, and agendas together into one unifying and mutual beneficial approach. For smart urban infrastructure, in particular, it offers the promise of addressing the current fragmentation and accelerating and scaling hitherto mostly scattered approaches. Moreover, smart urban infrastructure will be able to “surf” on and follow in the wake of the momentum of often much better funded telco and sustainability ecosystems. Additionally, it will pave the way for city governments to tap into widescale sensor data monetization.
However, various smart pole adoption barriers prove difficult to address, especially issues related to co-ownership, cost sharing, and management/maintenance. Other inhibitors include the lack of standards for modular and interoperable hardware solutions, lack of awareness about the benefits at city governments, additional power supply requirements, conflicting priorities and agendas, and sensor data privacy concerns.
As a result, ABI Research remains conservative as to the rate of smart pole adoption growth, forecasting 10.8 million smart poles in operation globally by 2030, still only representing less than 5% of all streetlights. However, the number and scale of smart pole projects will grow exponentially toward the end of this decade, setting the scene for widespread deployments in the next decade.